home birth week : wife vs. mother: a father's perspective, by Brian Swan
I have to admit that when Rachel told me she wanted to give birth to Sela at home, I didn't know how to react. I was surprised and concerned. I had always assumed that my life would follow the television cliches of birth; packing an overnight bag, planning a route to the hospital, and rushing out the door in pajamas in the middle of the night. Giving birth anywhere else hadn't ever occurred to me, and there were a couple more people that I was pretty sure had never had that idea either: my parents.
After taking a couple of weeks to wrap my mind around the idea, I approached my parents to drop the homebirth bombshell. In retrospect I can say that I did this much too soon, because I still wasn't sure that it was the best thing for my wife and unborn child. I mentioned that we would be having the baby at home as casually as I could, hoping that it would be accepted before anyone really realized what had been said. I knew my parents had heard, though, when I saw that my mom's eyes were the size of saucers. "I don't think that's a very good idea." she said when she had had a moment to calm down.
I repeated the thing that I had been using to reassure myself, "The hospital is only two miles away."
"If you hadn't been born in a hospital, you would have died!"
I shrugged. It was all I could do. I knew I had been sick when I'd been born and I really didn't have any way to reply to that.
Never one to jump into something without testing the water, my dad asked "How do you feel about it?"
That felt less like a question and more like somebody pulling aside the curtain while I was showering - I suddenly felt very exposed and uncomfortable. Truth was, I didn't know how I felt. I wanted to be supportive but I was scared that something would go wrong and that Rachel and I would forever blame ourselves for having made a decision that led to the loss of our baby. "I don't know," I said quietly.
"I think we're talking to the wrong person, then." Mom said.
"No, let me handle it." I replied.
I left my parents' house feeling like Rachel and I were making the worst decision of our lives and wondering how and if I would be able to put my foot down and insist on a "normal" hospital birth. I thought about what they had said about me being so sick when I was born, and how terrified I was of the same thing happening to our baby. It was much later in the pregnancy that I realized that the only place I could have contracted a disease was in the hospital. I began to wish that I had waited to talk to my parents so that I could have told them that if I hadn't been born in the hospital I wouldn't have died - that I probably wouldn't have ever been sick. I wished that I had been more supportive and trusting of Rachel's decision and known that she wouldn't decide to do something that affected her and our baby without thoroughly researching it and knowing the risks.
But it was too late.
After meeting with our midwife, Diane, I felt much better about the whole idea and was ready to have a homebirth.
My mom never made it that far.
The day finally arrived that Rachel went into labor, and I was surprisingly relaxed as we started putting the plans we'd made into action; I got a bed ready for Diane, hooked a hose up to the hot water in the laundry room so that we could fill the birthing tub, and followed Rachel as she paced around the house, annoyingly offering to get her anything she needed over and over again. I called my parents to tell them that labor had started, and they called a couple of times that night for updates.
Labor took a lot longer than I had thought. I wished that I could help speed things up or at least help Rachel get some rest. I could see that Diane was beginning to worry about Sela and Rachel as she furrowed her brow each time she took Sela's heartbeat. Diane put Rachel on oxygen and said it was time to get out of the tub and start pushing. At that exact instant our front door opened and it was my turn to have saucer-sized eyes; my mom had come to end the "hippy ritual" and get her granddaughter to a hospital.
Luckily, Diane wasn't in the mood to chat and she pointed at my mom and told her that she was helping. My mom helped to support Rachel as Sela was born. She hadn't supported our decision and hadn't been invited, but I was glad she came when she did. I haven't talked to her too much about homebirth since, but I know that she was surprised to see the professional care and personal support that Diane, Briana, and Liz gave to Rachel and Sela. She stayed for an hour or two after the birth to help clean up and took a load of laundry home with her.
The time leading up to Sela's birth was surreal; on the one hand I had a strong and knowledgeable wife and her incredibly supportive family, friends, and midwife, on the other I had the friction and difficulty of winning my parents' respect and support of the decision that we'd made and of convincing myself that it was right. I couldn't have asked for a better resolution. The panic that I felt when my mom burst through our front door had been completely replaced with peace and happiness by the time she took the bundle of wet towels and rags home with her.
It may seem odd that so much of my first child's birth revolved around my mother, but at the time I felt stretched between the scientific logic of my mother and the peaceful decisiveness of my wife. I went into the experience with all of the concerns that my mom had voiced and left it knowing it was exactly what Rachel, Sela, and I needed to do.
Sela's birth did something else; it built upon the feeling of "home" that I felt in that little basement apartment. Every day I would be reminded of Rachel laboring calmly in the birthing tub, of kissing the back of Rachel's neck and whispering in her ear as she pushed, and of seeing Sela's scrunched-up face and hearing her cry for the first time. I would remember all of these things because it happened right there, in our apartment where we lived and laughed and loved every single day.
Had you told me five years ago that I would be such a staunch supporter of homebirth, I would have laughed until I turned blue. But I have since become quite the advocate of homebirth and I don't doubt that most of my coworkers and friends are tired of hearing me blather on about how much more peaceful a homebirth is than in the hospital, how it can be just as safe as a hospital birth, how I recommend they look into birthing centers if they're not sure about a birth at home, and how I push Birthing From Within like it's an old Buick and I'm a used car salesman. I am now convinced that more people need to know that the hospital isn't the only option and that they can have a safe and healthy baby in the peace and comfort of their own home.
Thank you, Brian for sharing such a sweet perspective of our shared story. I feel so lucky to have this guy as my partner in making and bringing our babies into the world. We make a pretty great team, if I do say so myself. :)